Will the reformists who defected eventually reverse or backtrack on the reform agenda, wonders WH Cheng.
Has Perikatan Nasional (PN), which consists of Bersatu, Umno, Pas, Gabungan Parti Sarawak and two more minor political parties, MCA and MIC, decided what kind of government they want to be?
In the 2018 general election, the people elected an alternative coalition of political parties called Pakatan Harapan (PH) to take over the reign from the Barisan Nasional (BN). The BN had ruled the nation for more than 60 years and had been tainted with massive corruption, mismanagement and abuse of power, causing billions of rinngit to go missing from public coffers.
This is what the people wanted, a change for the better.
However, after the mass defection of PH MPs from their original coalition and following the resignation of the then prime minister and then the withdrawal of Bersatu from PH, the PN coalition of convenience was established to take over from the 22-month PH reign.
During PH’s governance, a number of reforms were initiated, most importantly, putting the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Election Commission under parliamentary purview.
Another reform was the process of ensuring the independence of Parliament, making it an institution that would provide effective checks and balances. Some parliamentary select committees were established to provide checks on various government expenditure, implementation, policies and other matters of administration.
Work was also on the way to amend the federal constitution to limit the positions of prime minister, chief ministers and menteris besar to only two terms for each candidate.
Then, there was the drafting and finalising of the Parliamentary Services Bill (2020) to restore the independence and autonomy of Parliament. Until today, Parliament and its administration is still under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department.
PH had also been reviewing and planning to repeal the Sedition Act (pending) and Anti Fake News Act (done), amend the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act (pending) and review the dictatorial National Security Council Act.
The independent police complaints and misconduct commission bill was also being finalised and expected to be tabled at the next parliamentary sitting.
The amendments to allow youths from aged 18 to vote was also approved in the last parliamentary sitting. But the law has not yet been gazetted, which means if an election is called anytime from now, 18-year olds would still be ineligible to vote.
The process of having these laws reviewed, repealed or amended was stalled due to the fall of the PH government towards the end of February, following a mass defection of PH MPs and the withdrawal of Bersatu from the then ruling coalition.
So, with Bersatu leading PN, together with Umno, Pas, GPS, and the minor parties MCA and MIC, the government is moving slowly in making decisions and implementing them.
The nation’s economy is slowing down very fast, the oil price has plunged, the ringgit too, and the coronavirus has spread.
The question here is, has PN decided what kind of government it wants to be after Bersatu decided to team up with conservatives like Umno, Pas, GPS and the smaller MCA and MIC, when Bersatu keeps on insisting that they are for the reforms to continue?
If Bersatu is still reform-minded whereas Umno, Pas, GPS, MCA and MIC are not, how is Bersatu is going to lead this coalition of convenience till the next general election, probably in 2023?
Umno, Pas and some eastern province Perikatan-linked politicians began to complain that their parties were not given important cabinet positions but merely minor ministerial positions and their representation in government was being unfairly decided.
People who voted in the last general election have voiced their concern over the conservative nature and one-race dominated federal government.
Leaders of the new Perikatan Nasional government, for their part, complained about not getting enough positions for themselves.
People are wondering with a conservative, racial and religious government in place, will it bother to even proceed with the changes and reforms initiated by the previous government?
Will we see people getting arrested, detained and prosecuted again under the notorious Sedition Act, the Peaceful Assembly Act, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma), the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act for merely criticising or giving opposing opinions on the way this government administers our nation?
Today, we have greater freedom of expression, more independent state institutions, broader press freedom, effective anti-corruption measures, greater empowerment of citizens and more civil liberties. People’s awareness of politics and policies has also increased.
Are all these going to fade with Umno and Pas back in full control? We saw what they did before May 2018. Many victims and former detainees of the previous BN dictatorship are still alive today to see the changes – but wonder whether it is going backwards.
Is Prime Minister Muyhiddin Yassin able to convince the people and our nation that his government is not going to backtrack on the various reforms initiated previously?
Can Muhyiddin and his cabinet ministers give us their pledge that they are going to continue to instil clean and inclusive politics, respect for freedom of speech and human rights, accountable public institutions, parliamentary and electoral reforms and to enhance progressive democracy?
We must not allow any attempt from any leader to reverse this progress and reforms in the name of racial or religious considerations.
The question is, will the reformists who defected eventually reverse or backtrack on the reform agenda?